By April Sorrow
University of Georgia
A recent National Center for Home Food Preservation survey found that 94 percent of the people surveyed freeze some type of food. The NCHFP is hosted by the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia.
The NCHFP found that most people freeze foods in plastic bags. Other containers are suitable for freezing fruits and vegetables, too. These include plastic freezer containers or glass canning or freezing jars.
"Don't use paper cartons, like milk boxes," said NCHFP director Elizabeth Andress. "Many plastic containers that foods are packaged in for purchase, like yogurt, dips and sour cream, don't provide characteristics for preserving quality in the freezer. Freezer foil and coated paper are good for odd shaped foods."
Freeze the bestUse vegetables at peak flavor and texture. Whenever you can, harvest in the morning and freeze the veggies within a few hours. Wash them thoroughly in cold water and sort them according to size for blanching and packing.
For the best frozen-food quality and shelf life, always blanch vegetables (scald them in boiling water or steam for a short time).
"Blanching stops the action of enzymes that can cause loss of flavor, color and texture," Andress said. "Blanching time is crucial. And it varies with the vegetable and its size."
Underblanching stimulates the enzymes' activity, she said. "It's worse than not blanching at all. And overblanching can cause the loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals."
Then how long?You can get specific blanching times at the NCHFP Web site at http://homefoodpreservation.com.
Here are blanching times, in minutes, for some common veggies: green beans, 3; butterbeans, 2 (small) to 4 (large); corn-on-the-cob, 7 (small) to 11 (large); whole-kernel or creamed corn, 4; collards, 3; other greens, 2; okra, 3 (small) to 4 (large); field peas, 2; and summer squash, 3.
Boiling is the most widely recommended way to blanch vegetables. Use 1 gallon of water per pound of vegetables.
Put the vegetables in a blanching basket and lower them into vigorously boiling water. Place a lid on the pot and start counting blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil.
ChillAs soon as blanching is complete, cool the vegetables quickly to stop the cooking process by plunging the basket of vegetables immediately into a large quantity of cold water.
Cool them as long as you blanched them. Drain the vegetables completely after cooling.
Most foods require headspace between the packed food and closure to allow for expansion as they freeze. Headspace recommendations can be found at the Web site, too.
All packaged food should be at room temperature or cooler before you put them in the freezer. Don't overload your freezer with too much warm food at one time.
Freeze fastQuick freezing is best for frozen food quality. Spread the new packages around until they're frozen. Then you can stack them.
"Be sure to label all foods with the name of the food, date and type of pack," Andress said. "Most fruits and vegetables will remain high in quality for eight to 12 months. Longer storage won't make the food unfit but may impair its quality."
It's a good idea to post a list of the frozen foods with freezing dates near the freezer. Check the packages off the list as they're removed.
For more information on home-preserving fruits and vegetables or for recipes, visit the NCHFP Web site.
(April Sorrow was a writer for the National Center for Home Food Preservation with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)